It is spring and Red Dead-nettles (Lamium purpureum) are nearly everywhere – in gardens, in cracks in the pavement and on the allotment. In a mild spring these pretty flowers can start appearing as early as February and they can continue throughout the spring and summer and into autumn.
To many the Red Dead-nettle (also known as Purple Dead-nettle, Badman, Badman’s Posies, Sweet Archangel or Red Archangel) is a rampant weed and it is certainly good at seeding and producing more of its kind on newly weeded soil and other bare ground. It can also carry cucumber mosaic virus and potato leaf-roll virus. A single plant can produce between one and four thousand seeds and evidence of Red Dead-nettle has been found in Bronze Age deposits, so it probably came to Britain with early agriculture, along with other weeds. It has since spread to North America, where it is listed as an invasive species in some areas.
But Red Dead-nettle flowers are very popular with bumblebees when few other flowers are about so I always allow a few plants to grow on the allotment. I find that on my dry, sandy soil Red Dead-nettles don’t cause much trouble as they can be pulled or hoed out very easily and they are never a nuisance. From May onwards a crop of different summer weeds take over and cause far more trouble: Fat Hen, Lesser Bindweed, Gallant Soldier, sowthistles, to name but a few.
Red dead-nettle is a member of family Lamiaceae, which includes sage, mint, thyme and other useful kitchen herbs. It is also edible and is a pleasant addition to spring salads – use the leaves and flowering tops. The leaves can also be steamed, perhaps with some butter added at the end of cooking. Other recipes include bacon and deadnettle strata and springtime fritters. I sometimes just nibble some leaves when I’m gardening. Red Dead-nettle is also used in herbal medicine for its possible anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, or for treating wounds.
See the Wildflower Finder website for some lovely photos of Red Dead-nettle, much better than the ones on this page.